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Welcome to the 105th edition of The Look Back.  This week we’re looking at Stella Rosa’s trajectory to becoming America’s most popular imported wine, hard kombucha’s cloudy future, Topo Chico Hard Seltzer’s 2022, and more. 

Last week’s most popular link was: Direct-to-Consumer Wine Sales Drop After Pandemic-Era Peaks (VinePair)

- Josh, VinePair co-founder

#1 - Lessons To Learn From Stella Rosa, America’s #1 Imported Wine

The Headline: “Stella Rosa Unseats Yellow Tail To Become Top Imported Wine In U.S.”
The Source: VinePair
What You Need To Know:

While Yellow Tail has long held the crown as America’s top-imported wine brand, another fan-favorite has officially dethroned the Australian wine brand.

Stella Rosa is now the top-imported brand in the United States, according to the American Association of Wine Enthusiasts (AAWE). In the period between 2019 and 2021, a massive jump in Stella Rosa’s sales skyrocketed the brand to No. 1, bypassing the long-reining Yellow Tail.

While Stella Rosa experienced a major pandemic-era jump, it hasn’t been a top player for long. The sweet vinos are produced in Italy and, since its inception, the brand has sold 22.5 million nine-liter cases up until 2021.

While 2022 data isn’t yet available, initial reports from Stella Rosa seem to indicate that sales slowed in the past year, according to Shanken News Daily.

As the AAWE notes, 19 Crimes has also emerged as a rising brand in the past 10 years. The label, which emerged in 2012, is especially known for its swanky celebrity collaborations; Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart have famously partnered with 19 Crimes for past releases.

That article includes a chart of the top imported wine brands going back to 1990. It’s dramatic!

Our Take: If you've been reading this newsletter for a while this might not be news to you. Back in August 2022 I excerpted a couple of reports from Shanken News Daily on the state of the U.S. wine industry:

Among all wines in 2021, Italy’s Stella Rosa was the fastest-growing label priced above $10 a 750-ml. Last year, Stella Rosa became the market’s largest-selling import, surpassing Australia’s Yellow Tail, which had held that spot since 2003.

Italy continues to command about a 37% volume share and 34% value share of the overall imported wine category in the U.S., and imported wine market leader Stella Rosa, part of Riboli Family Wines, was responsible for nearly 27% of Italy’s U.S. volume total in 2021. Stella Rosa’s extensive lineup of semi-sweet and semi-sparkling wines grew 26% last year to nearly 7.3 million cases, according to Impact Databank, overtaking Yellow Tail as the largest imported wine brand. Between 2015-2020, Stella Rosa averaged an annual growth rate of over 41%, expanding by more than 1 million cases a year, and its pace shows no sign of slowing.

“We’re not a two or three SKU brand at retail, we’re like a 10 SKU brand,” says Steve Riboli, third-generation owner of Riboli Family Wines. “We have lots of neat flavors that are similar like Blueberry and Peach but are 300,000 to 500,000 cases each.”

Stella Black is the company’s leading SKU and accounts for 25% of its SKU mix, and Moscato D’Asti is the second-largest offering. While the company has been busy with recent launches like Organic Orange Fusion and a Non-Alcoholic range, more new innovations are on the horizon.

This year, Stella Rosa will launch a new higher-end, barrel-aged sparkling Prosecco and a dry rosé made from Pinot Noir, as well as a line of flavored brandies that will complement the flavored wine range as the brand’s first foray into spirits.

Given the doom and gloom that’s dominated wine industry headlines for the past couple of weeks in the wake of Silicon Valley Bank’s annual industry report (highly recommended VinePair podcast discussion here), I thought it would be helpful to take a closer look at what Stella Rosa is doing. I’ll admit, I wasn’t all that familiar with the brand until 2019. If you’re not, consider this your Need To Know:

  • Stella Rosa is now about a quarter of all imported Italian wine by volume.
  • The brand’s wines range from somewhat traditional all the way to fruit-flavor-infused, low-alcohol, semi-sparkling bottles that are closer in spirit to RTDs like BeatBox than whatever you think of when you think of Italian wine (more on this below).
  • The brand’s leading SKU, Stella Rosa Black, is a 5% ABV red blend that includes the addition of natural flavors. It also packs 23 grams of sugar per serving — which is disclosed on the nutrition panel on the back label.
  • About that label…many of the brand’s labels are printed in both English and Spanish. They also feature helpful sweetness scales.
  • And you’ll find those labels on splashy (fine, garish) 750ml bottles, 187ml bottles, a host of cans, an N/A line, and a line of flavored brandies.
  • Riboli invested heavily in marketing the brand, particularly in their home market of California. Here’s the LA Times, from back in 2018, which you can see on the chart above is right around when growth kicked into another gear:
The best-selling wine brand in California isn’t from California. It’s not Josh or Barefoot or Coppola, or Two-Buck Chuck. It’s an Italian import called Stella Rosa, created by the Riboli family, a wine company based not in Napa or Sonoma but in the shadow of Dodger Stadium, in Lincoln Heights.

Even if you haven’t tasted Stella Rosa — there are 22 different flavors to try — you can’t help but be familiar with the brand. The company has sponsored floats in the Rose Bowl, flown airplanes trailing banners down West Coast beaches, and placed a majority of its 400 billboards around the greater Los Angeles area, extolling you to “Taste the Magic” and to “Stellabrate.” So if you’ve never stellabrated, perhaps it’s time to get acquainted.

If you were playing “things the wine industry should be doing in the wake of the SVB report bingo” you’d have won if you had executed Riboli’s playbook for the brand. You’d also have one of the 10 best-selling wine brands in the U.S. — imported or domestic.

Back to BeatBox. If you’re not familiar with the wine-based RTD brand, we covered it in detail at VinePair last summer. With that out of the way, I’m going to excerpt Hop Take columnist Dave Infante’s excellent independent Fingers newsletter covering the SVB report (paywall):

Even though BeatBox and BuzzBallz have been two of the hotter wine-based ready-to-drink brands on the market for a few years now, I see very few wine companies following their lead or even cherry-picking strategies from either. 

Though the naturally flavored orange wine “cocktails” may be an affront to winemakers accustomed to pitching their products on the merits of terroir, provenance, vintage, etc., the simple fact is BuzzBallz sells a shitload of wine. 

If BuzzBallz is an affront to American winemakers, BeatBox, with its fruity flavors and Bang-banged-a-Bota Box aesthetics, might be a flat-out abomination. Launched in 2011, the wine-based party punch picked up an investor in Mark Cuban after a successful Shark Tank appearance in 2014, and has since gone absolutely gangbusters.

I feel for winemakers, I really do. It looks like the category’s best days are behind it (on American shores, at least), and I can’t imagine many of them got into the business to make flavored wine drank for the TikTok set. BuzzBallz and BeatBox represent an extreme/maybe-unpalatable end of wine's innovation spectrum, but it’s the extremely successful end where a lot of the growth is right now. Are they on-ramps to higher-end “premium” wines (sales of which are doing just fine per SVB’s report)? Absolutely not. But if the crisis is as urgent and existential as McMillan argues it is, and convincing American drinkers to spend a little more per-bottle to buy better wine is a longer-term initiative, producers need to be thinking about short-term survival. To survive below $15, American winemakers can either start "mak[ing] better fucking everyday wine and sell[ing] it for a reasonable fucking price,” as Jason Wilson of the Everyday Drinking newsletter suggests; or rethink how their product can fit into a changing market using upstart wine-based brands’ undeniable growth as a guide. Or a little of both!

Those that do neither… I mean, the outlook sounds grim.

Dave is absolutely correct that BeatBox and BuzzBallz are unlikely to be on-ramps to premium wine consumption. I mean “BeatBox Beverages - The World's Tastiest Party Punch” speaks for itself. The wine base is likely unknown or irrelevant to the majority of consumers of both brands. But there is something to learn from the full-flavored approach these brands take, and you can see it in Stella Rosa’s lineup. These are wines that are undeniably being sold as wines — despite the additions of ‘natural flavors’ and/or arriving at 5% ABV — and most of them are in that key $10-$15 ‘on-ramp’ price tier. I don’t have any insight into the brand’s SKU strategy but as you can see for yourself, there are ‘traditional’ D.O.C. offerings for fans who are looking for something not so sweet, and at still-low double-digit ABVs. Which, by the way, are priced at $30. You can sneer at the wild array of flavored infused offers — blueberry, watermelon, ‘platinum french vanilla’ — but you’ll be looking past one of the clearest, most successful, on-ramps around.*

One final point: you may have noticed in the initial excerpt that the brand saw sales slump a bit in 2022, after years of rocketship growth. Here’s how they’re looking at 2023, per Shanken News Daily:

SND: How do you see the outlook for this year?

Riboli: We’re expecting a breakout in 2023 and 2024. A lot of brands are cutting back on marketing. We’re going all in. We’re heavier in our marketing spend in ’23 than we were in ’22. It’s expensive to talk to the customer, but we’re going to keep that conversation very much alive.

SND: How are you attacking the premiumization opportunity?

Riboli: Last year we introduced some premium stars of ours, such as VS Prosecco and Prosecco Rosé (both $30 a 750-ml). It’s a gorgeous package at an upscale price point. We’ve introduced an imported brandy ($30), and we’ve introduced some new innovation flavors that the consumer is looking for, especially cranberry and blackberry, and an organic item as well.

* Before you trot out a ‘well, actually’ response, of course many consumers will never get on the expressway to keep this metaphor going. But some will, and some of the best-selling imported wine is potentially a lot!

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Hop Take Preview: Hard Kombucha: West Coast Niche or National Lifestyle-Brand Launchpad?

When something long popular in Southern California finds traction in brownstone Brooklyn, is it evidence of a truly national trend? Or just a reminder that Southern Californians and Brooklynites have a lot more in common with each other than the rest of us?

It’s hard to think of a beverage more “beyond beer” than hard kombucha, a 21+ version of the ancient beverage that has for at least half a decade been heralded by boosters as a “better-for-you” heir apparent for the dollars that LOHAS (members of the “Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability” demographic, in marketing jargon) aren’t spending on BOLAs (Boring Old Lagers and Ales, in Hop Take jargon.) “Instead of an alternative to alcohol, hard kombucha are now an alternative alcohol,” proclaimed beer journalist Josh Bernstein, writing for Wine Magazine in 2018. In 2020, the trade publication Shanken News Daily reported that sales of the hard beverage in the United States had leapt from $1.7 million in 2017 to $12 million just two years later, and “are expected to rise exponentially over the next five years.” Massive macrobrewers like Anheuser-Busch InBev bought their way into the category; big craft players like Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. developed their own hard kombucha brands to compete. And the money! Investors have plowed nearly $100 million into hard kombucha brands like JuneShine, Flying Embers, and Jiant, lured by fruit-forward flavors, health haloes, and eye-popping growth metrics.

But for all the hoopla, hard kombucha remains a relatively niche category. Maybe Mike’s observation — that gut-health obsessives and #wellness acolytes who have helped turn non-alcoholic kombucha into a nearly $2 billion market might not be keen on the fermented tea when it contains real ABV — is a factor. Or maybe hard kombucha is just a *Red Hot Chili Peppers voice* dream of Cali-fermentation at home in drink coolers west of the Rockies and east of the Hudson River, but only a few places in between. “From a geographic perspective, it is definitely bigger on the West Coast,” 3 Tier Beverages consultant Mary Mills tells Hop Take via email, noting that nearly half the segment’s volume comes from the Golden State. “However, there are some growth pockets in the South and East Coast that are helping stem some of the declines from more mature markets.”

Read Dave’s entire column here!

#2 - One Good (Topo Chico Hard Seltzer) Quote

Via Beer Marketer’s Insights

Bonus Reads:

  • Night Shift Focuses on Core in 2023, Designates Whirlpool as Flagship, Adds Beer Variety Packs & Single-Serves (Brewbound) (paywall)
  • How a California premium winery quickly flipped its boomer-dominated consumer base to younger generations (North Bay Business Journal)
  • How Resy Won (Eater)
  • Campari's US Whiskey Portfolio "Near Complete" with Latest Acquisitions (Wine & Spirits Daily) (paywall)
And that’s a wrap. We hope you found this newsletter informative and useful. Whether you did or didn’t, we’d love to know why at

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